By Chris Hart, Christine Griffin and Valerie Fletcher
Here’s a statement that’s pretty obvious: getting around is important.
Whether you drive, walk, cycle, or ride a bus, train or subway, getting safely from place to place is fundamental. For people and freight, for workers and students, for seniors and for kids, we depend on transportation to live our lives.
Here’s another statement that’s not as obvious: disabilities are universal, and often invisible. All of us will experience a physical limitation in our lives, whether it is you, or someone in your family, circle of friends or workplace. It happens on a temporary basis, or as part of the natural aging process.
When we put those two statements together – the importance of getting around, and commonplace disability – we are opening a window onto an enormous challenge. People with disabilities, and their families and friends, are often left behind because trains, bus stops and stations are not accessible. The result is a heavy reliance on paratransit and medical transportation that are costly and contribute to a loss of independence.
This has been true for decades. But it’s particularly important now, with ballot question 1, which if passed will restrict urgent funding needed to upgrade our transportation network so everyone can get around.
Most of the talk about Question 1 focuses on unsafe bridges, and rightly so. But the upgrades needed to make our transit systems work for everyone are also at risk. For people with disabilities, this is even more critical. Our aging transportation systems were built with the able-bodied in mind.
According to MassDOT, there are at least 25,000 curb ramps and 15,000 bus stops statewide, and at least 60 Commuter Rail and Green Line stations without any raised platforms, ramps or elevators. There is even a station (NEMC/Tufts) where the entrance serving elderly housing lacks an elevator.
The MBTA alone has close to 500 escalators and elevators with a substantial number at or beyond their usable lives. Achieving 100% access and a state of good repair is possible – but it requires sustained investment. Without that commitment, stations will remain inaccessible, and many others will become inaccessible as equipment fails, putting neighborhoods and jobs out of reach.
Consider that an aging population needs more accessible transportation. Many of the households without cars in Massachusetts – 1 out of every 7 – are headed by elders and people with disabilities, and many of these are veterans or their surviving spouses. In metro Boston, nearly 1 in 3 people will be over 65 by 2030. For Cape Cod and the Berkshires, the numbers are higher. Ensuring that our streets, bus stops, and train stations are 100% accessible will create a Commonwealth transportation network that works for all of us.
Question 1 is really a test of our ability to think past short-term self-interest. The couple of dollars per year that the average motorist pays through gas tax indexing is needed to fix crumbling bridges, and it’s also needed to replace the transit lifelines that have been out of reach for too many for too long. For dignity, opportunity and fairness for people with disabilities, and for their families, friends and communities – which is everyone in the commonwealth – let’s defeat Question 1 on November 4.
Chris Hart is the Technical Advisor for the Boston Center for Independent Living-MBTA Settlement Agreement, a former member of the Governor’s Transportation Reform Committee and a Presidential Appointee to the US Access Board.
Christine Griffin is the Executive Director of the Disability Law Center and former Assistant Secretary for Disability Policies and Programs for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
Valerie Fletcher is the Executive Director for the Institute for Human Centered Design.